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Rust Never Sleeps

Rust Never Sleeps
BMG / Sanctuary
1979 / Color / 1:33 flat / 103, 116 min. / Street Date September 24, 2002 / $24.98
Starring Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Ralph Molina, Frank 'Pancho' Sampedro, Billy Talbot
Cinematography Jon Else, Paul Goldsmith, Robbie Greenberg, L.A. Johnson, David Myers, Hiro Narita, Richard Pearce
Film Editor Neil Young
Rerecording mixer Steve Maslow
Produced by L.A. Johnson
Directed by Neil Young

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

This is the end-of-the-70's concert film of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, a direct record of their touring show, and it fares well in conveying the direct performance atmosphere. Visually, it's rather impaired, and the stage show trappings are less than memorable, but the movie does what the best concert films do, let the performances come through with a minimum of interference. The audio on this DVD is exceptionally strong, which makes up for the barely-acceptable video quality.


The Rust Never Sleeps concert, filmed at San Francisco's Cow Palace on October 22, 1978. An elaborately designed stage with oversized props representing amplifiers is the setting for stage hands dressed in robes and glowing eyes to interact with men dressed as white-smocked scientists. Among various creepings-about, they serve to do set changes, moving pianos, etc.. Canned audio is played, from Sgt. Pepper to a big helping of Jimi Hendrix, and stage announcements from Woodstock. Then Neil Young comes on, playing acoustically at first before switching to electric guitar with his Crazy Horse accompanists. The set consists of 19 songs: Sugar Mountain, I Am a Child, Comes a Time, After the Gold Rush, Thrasher, My My Hey Hey (Out of the Blue), When You Dance I Can Really Love, The Loner, Welfare Mothers, The Needle and the Damage Done, Lotta Love, Sedan Delivery, Powderfinger, Cortez the Killer, Cinnamon Girl, Like a Hurricane, Hey Hey My My (Into the Black), Tonight's the Night.

This'll be short and sweet, as Savant knows little about Neil Young except for the following: He made a big smash in 1971 with some hit singles that we initially made fun of at college, you know, the slightly whiny, limited voice and all. But the hippest UCLA Sproul dormies were into After the Gold Rush. He's uncharacteristically cheery-looking in The Last Waltz, where reader Robert Plante informs us that the new bio, Shakey, confirms an optical was used to eliminate a big chunk of cocaine stuck under Neil's nose. In the late 80's, Young's song Rockin' in the Free World helped me feel as if I wasn't alone in my loathing of the Reagan-Bush years. And finally, I actually liked Young's off-the-wall performance in Alan Rudolph's Love at Large, an under-rated, sweet movie.

As for Neil Young's songs, style, and rock'n roll history, Savant knows practically nothing. I like the known hits here, like Sugar Mountain, and was surprised to learn that he wrote Lotta Love, a pleasant tune.

As a concert, Rust Never Sleeps stages some rather inane running-around business of Jawa-like be-robed minions called Road Eyes, and pretentiously uses playbacks of the Hendrix and Beatles tunes The Star Spangled Banner and A Day in the Life. As an afterthought, inventing the Road Eyes gives the roadies something to do; since there are almost no cutaways to the audience (even angles canted toward the house show just blackness) the few shots where the little light bulb-eyed guys rock out to the music become sort of a highlight.

But the concert itself isn't trying to do more than segue between the numbers, where Young smiles a bit and says a couple of semi-humorous lines ("When I get big, I'm going to go electric!") and leaves it at that. The re-use of basically the whole 'avoid the Brown acid' talk from Woodstock on the P.A. system, probably came off as nostalgia for the earlier concert years. For those who love Neil Young, this DVD will be two hours of solid gold.

Sanctuary's DVD of Rust Never Sleeps is nicely appointed, with a reproduction of Young's simple stage directions on an insert booklet and as a special menu item. Also included are all the song lyrics, a photo gallery, and 'Road Eye Slides'.

The transfer is just okay. The picture is shot in such low stage lighting, that a lot of it sinks into murk. Not given the restoration treatment of something like Monterey Pop, it's hard to tell whether the source is 16mm or an old videotape. Savant doesn't know enough to know where to point the finger. There aren't any artifacts, per se, so I'm tempted to believe that an older videotape master was resourced - on a large monitor, even Young's face is empatterned with a screenlike grid in some shots.

The audio more than makes up for the visuals, as it's remixed in bracing 5.1, Surround and DTS, and is very loud and clear. In fact, you may want to minimize your volume levels before you spin the disc. Maybe performer/director/editor Young didn't make adequate provision for his cameras in 1978, but the sound recording was tops. Rust Never Sleeps might have been compromised in theaters, but on DVD, it's like a super Neil Young concert album.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Rust Never Sleeps rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Fair
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: photo gallery, 'script' (stage instructions)
Packaging: Transparent keep case
Reviewed: January 7, 2003

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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